Slideshow: 27 Cool Coats of Arms

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Coats of arms are heraldic designs that grew out of the European Middle Ages. They were originally meant to distinguish people in combat because faces were concealed by helmets. Now whole families, provinces, states and agencies have them, but the most well-known are those of nations.

The coat of arms of the Russian Empire from 1882 up to the Russian Revolution in 1917. The double-headed eagle came from Byzantium, a successor state of Rome. It means the emperor's authority in affairs both political and religious. Credit: Baron Koehne, Barbe Igor. The coat of arms of the Mutawakkilite Kingdom of Yemen, which was absorbed into the larger state of Yemen in the mid 20th century. It depicts the scimitar, a bladed sabre that developed in the Middle East. The water represents Yemen's home on the Sea. Credit: Poohgun - junmon. The Irish coat of arms. Celtic harps have been played on the island for over a thousand years. Credit: National Library of Ireland. Uzbekistan's emblem. The legendary Huma bird comes from Persian mythology and represents love of freedom and happiness. The coat's style reflects its soviet history. Credit: Hk kng, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emblem_of_Uzbekistan. The Vietnamese emblem. The yellow star means the Communist Party. The crops and machinery stand for agricultural and industrial labor. Credit: Fry1989. Slovenia's coat. The three-peaked Triglav mountain is the highest in the Julian Alps. Credit: SKopp. Taino and Arawak representatives hold up the Jamaican shield, which features England's red cross of St. George. Credit: Ranveig. The Australian shield shows the insignia of each of the country's six states. Credit: André Koehne. This emblem was adopted by Nepal after the Nepalese Civil War. It features Mount Everest in the background and two shaking hands to demonstrate gender equality. Credit: PraShree. The New Zealand coat shows a Maori chieftain and a European woman, representing the two major ethnic groups. The three black ships represent the Kiwis' importance as sea traders. Credit: Manatū Taonga, Ministry for Culture and Heritage. The origin of the Swiss cross is debated among various legends, but has been used since at least the 12th century. One legend has it first used by the Theban Legion, a Roman army division that converted to Christianity before being totally martyred. Credit: E Pluribus Anthony, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flag_of_Switzerland. Iceland's coat. It was illegal for Vikings to show their dragonhead masts in the island's direction, lest they provoke one of its four protectors, the eagle, dragon, bull and rock giant. Credit: Kjallakr, Rkt2312, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coat_of_arms_of_Iceland. Winged horses and the Central Asian yurt dwelling complete Kazakhstan's coat. Credit: Jandarbek Melibekov, Shota Walikhanov. The Kingdom of Italy in 1806. Napoleon was king of Italy at this time, designated by the Napoleonic star above the eagle's head. The keys of St. Peter are in the top left of the shield, symbolizing the popes in Rome. Credit: Theo van der Zalm. The arms of Austria-Hungary, 1866-1915. The now separate nations once shared a "dual monarchy" system. Credit: Sodacan. Israel's emblem shows the Jewish menorah, symbolizing enlightenment, and olive branches, meaning peace. Credit: Max and Gabriel Shamir; Tonyjeff. The imperial coat of arms for the Shahs of Iran. The winged Farvahar symbol in the top right quarter is from Zoroastrianism, an ancient Persian religion, and is still a popular symbol in the Muslim country. Credit: Kolomaznik. Costa Rica's coat shows three volcanoes separating two oceans. Credit: Lex.mercurio. A coat of arms of Côte d'Ivoire. The trade of the ivory from elephant's tusks gave the country its name, the Ivory Coast. Credit: Prez001. The three lions of Richard the Lionheart have been mixed with other European heraldry, but have remained a primary symbol for the English. Credit: Sodacan. The first arms of the Kingdom of France, way back before the 1300s. The fleur-de-lis has been a symbol of the French ever since. Credit: Sodacan, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_emblem_of_France. The three crowns are widely used to represent Sweden, but their origin is unknown. One theory is that King  Albrekt, who governed until 1389, first used them to illustrate his control of Sweden, Finland and Mecklenburg. Credit: Ssolbergj, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Three_Crowns. The emblem of Mongolia includes the Mongolian Soyombo symbol, the Yin-yang and a Dharma Wheel. Mongol horsemen were effective warriors throughout history. Their ancient ancestors, the Xiongnu, beleaguered China on horseback for hundreds of years. Credit: Sodacan. The Ukrainian coat. The trident has been a part of Ukrainian heritage since Medieval times. Credit: Alex Khristov, Wasyl Krytschewskyj.
The South Korean emblem. The Rose of Sharon is the national flower of South Korea and the Taegeuk symbol in the middle represents harmony of yin and yang. Credit: Ksiom. Chile's arms are supported by a condor, a huge bird of the Andes Mountains with wingspans as long as 10 feet. The motto reads "By reason or force." Credit: Charles Wood Taylor, Alex:D. The world's newest country, South Sudan, blazons a tribal shield and spear that connote protection. The African fish eagle means vision and strength. Credit: Fry1989.
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The origin of the Swiss cross is debated among various legends, but has been used since at least the 12th century. One legend has it first used by the Theban Legion, a Roman army division that converted to Christianity before being totally martyred. Credit: E Pluribus Anthony, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flag_of_Switzerland.